Horse racing is a sport that involves running horses at high speeds over an open course. The race is typically held in front of a crowd and bettors place wagers on the outcome. Some races are designed to test a horse’s stamina, while others focus on its speed. In addition, a horse’s performance may be influenced by its position relative to the starting line, its sex, its age and the training it receives. Some of the most prestigious races offer the largest purses, and many of them are called conditions races because they place the greatest emphasis on a horse’s ability to overcome adverse conditions.
In the early days of horse racing, match contests between two or three horses were common. However, pressure by the public led to a shift toward dash racing (one heat) and the rider’s skill and judgment became crucial in coaxing that extra few yards of advantage from his mount. A race’s length varies, with some events stretching over 21/2 miles (4 kilometers) while other races are shorter. The distance of a race is also often influenced by custom and the type of horse being used.
The procedure for a horse race begins when the horses are lined up in a paddock. Then, they are paraded past the stewards, who verify their identity. Once the stewards have verified the identities of the horses, jockeys enter the starting gate and the race is on.
After the horses break clear of the starting gate, they run together in a ruthless battle to the finish line. The winner is the one that crosses the finish line first. If the race is so close that it cannot be decided by naked eye, a photo finish is conducted. In this process, a photograph of the finish is studied by a panel of stewards and patrol judges. If the stewards are unable to determine a definitive winner, the race is declared a dead heat.
Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing lies a world of injuries, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns. Hundreds of thousands of horses are forced to race–often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices–and many of them end up injured or dead. While the equestrian industry professes to improve animal welfare, it has failed to address its most glaring abuses. PETA has launched an extensive campaign to expose the cruel treatment of racehorses, which include breeding, drug use, abusive training methods for young horses, and the transportation of thousands of American horses to slaughter in foreign countries each year. It’s time for the American public to wake up to the dark side of horse racing and demand that it be stopped.